Japan : Chubu FAM Trip Part 2

This is the continuation of the my FAM trip to the Chubu area of Japan. This journal covers Tateyama, the famous Daio Wasabi Farm, soba making in Miharashi farm, Mount Hokendake and, lastly, a one night stay in Osaka.

This trip was sponsored by JNTO (Japan National Tourism Organization).

DAY 3 : Tateyama

On the 3rd day of the trip, we traveled through the Kurobe alpine route which is an exclusive route going through the Northern Japanese alpine. This route connects Toyoma city with Omachi town, which is on the other side of the alpine. The route was completed in 1971 and since then had became a major attraction. The entire route is 37km but it has vertical interval of 1975 meters in height.


Click on the map above for bigger view


To traverse the Kurobe alpine route, there are 3 different means of transportation; cable car, trolley buses and ropeway. This is the Kurobe cable car.


 An old photo showing the snow wall at Kurobe alpine route.


 Some photo op at the highest station.


 It was a bad day today as the visibility was really bad and wet with strong wind.


 We seem to be the only visitors today.


 Taking a break at the side of the walk way.


Visibility level of up to 30 meters.


 Natural spring water fountain where you can drink from.


 Snow from the night before. I was so not prepared for such conditions. The temperature was about 5 degree Celsius with strong wind.


On a clear day, you can actually see the alps which is right behind me, just like the photos next to me. Unfortunately it was too cloudy.


With such poor visibility, it was dangerous to hike up the trail as we might not be able to find our way back to the station. So we just had lunch and continued the journey.


A chart showing the cable car from the station to the other side of the alpine route. The route was carefully built so it does not harm it's surroundings and the environment. Cars are not allowed to go through this route. The buses used here are electric trolley bus.


A chart showing the type of transportation traveler can use to get across the Kurobe alpine route.


 Tateyama lake shot from the cable car.


 Look out point at one of the stations.



A tram train going pass our tram train in the tunnel on the way down.


The Tateyama dam. If you've watched the anime Kuromukuro, this would be familiar.


 Part of the route includes a walk through this dam.


 If you are adventurous you can actually hike through the entire Kurobe alpine route on foot. Some of the hotels at the stations serve as a base for hikers.




 We were short on time so we rushed from the station to get to the opposite side of the dam and climbed up a few hundreds steps of stairs. But, first, let me take a selfie!



 Nearly there! These stairs lead to an observation deck on top of a concrete-covered mountain slope.


And this is how it looks like. The red arrow shows the stairs where I literally ran up with all my gear.


 And we made it to the top! Bird's eye view of Tateyama dam. It is the tallest dam in Japan which stands at 186 meters tall.


Click the map above for Google map location


Daio Wasabi Farm

When we think about Japanese cuisine, wasabi always comes to mind as a key condiment. We all know that electrifying rush through our nasal passage when we take in a little too much wasabi. But most of us have never actually seen the actual raw wasabi plant.

After traveling 32km north of Matsumoto, I arrived at Japan’s biggest wasabi farm, the Daio Wasabi Farm in Nagano prefecture. Daio farm produces approximately 150 tonnes of wasabi each year and is one of the main wasabi producers in Japan. Wasabi is a delicate plant that requires a very specific environment to cultivate. The 15 hectares Daio farm has been producing the best wasabi since 1915 and is located at a very strategic location near the Alps. In all of Japan, only three locations are ideal and they are Shizuoka, Iwate, and Nagano.


Upon my arrival, I was greeted by wasabi master Shigetoshi-san. He’s a man in his 60’s sporting a distinctive ash white beard, and he likes to dress all in black with a cute charcoal shade beanie covering half of his oval shaped face, nearly reaching his eyes. He gave me a warm smile and welcomed me in Japanese. I can’t help but notice the dragonfly pins on his beanie and black apron. He wears a leather belt over his apron.


“Here, put this waterproof boots on,” as he walked me through a door that says “Staff Only”. Shigetoshi-san took me for a walk through the farm wearing Pua Chu Kang style rubber boots, as the water level is about 6 inches deep around the gravel bed. After walking 30 meters into the wasabi field, we arrived at a section where the wasabi is mature and ready for harvest. Shigetoshi-san bends over and carefully inspects the wasabi by brushing his hands over the leaves and he carefully pulled one out by the stems.  


He took out a knife h and started cutting off some of the small roots on the rooted long stems while explaining to me that wasabi grows on gravel bed that is flooded with running natural spring water. Daio farm is located right at the northern Alps of central Japan and it is the best location for wasabi cultivation because the natural spring water from the Alps flows through this farm all year round and it’s temperature is at constant 14 degree Celsius. In this farm, 120,000 tonnes of natural spring water flow through the gravel everyday. Wasabi takes up to nearly 3 years to harvest and every part of the plant can be used.


He cut a small thin slice of the rooted stems and handed it to me. Moments later he took out a small wooden grater from the pocket of his apron and started grinding the wasabi root on it. “Now eat the sliced wasabi and then try the grated wasabi, you will notice there is a significant difference between the sliced and grated wasabi,” said Shigetoshi-san.


He then explained how wasabi being served is crucial. A freshly grated wasabi will taste different 5 minutes later. It is best taken as fresh as possible. And when you get the electrifying sensation in your nasal cavity, just open your mouth and inhale using your mouth. That will get rid of the “pain”.



This is also a location where some movies were shot.


Gravel bed that is flooded with running natural spring water. Pic above and below.



Wasabi master Shigetoshi-san 


 Shigetoshi-san with a signage that has a drawing of him.


It was already getting dark so we started walking back to the souvenir shops. “Let me treat you to some homemade wasabi ice cream and introduce you to a cute girl who’s the idol of this farm.” By the time we got to the souvenir shops, they were closing but we were in time for the ice cream and he introduced me to Kana-chan who works in the ice-cream shop.


 Kana chan serving me wasabi ice-cream.

 This was the last location of today. Tomorrow is another long adventurous day. Check out the location below if you are interested to visit this wasabi farm.


Click the map above for Google map location

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DAY 4 : Matsumoto

Today I will be checking out a few places of interest in Matsumoto. Matsumoto is a city with a long history and deep heritage with lots of attractions that go as far back as 400 years. It is located in between Kyoto and Tokyo in Nagano prefecture. It is 2 hours 40 minutes by Limited Express train from Shinjuku, Tokyo and 3 hours from Osaka via Nagoya.


 Part of Matsumoto city view from my hotel room window.

Matsumoto is home to the oldest castle and one of the national treasures of Japan, the Matsumoto Castle. It has a 5 layers castle tower with a hidden 6th floor. The Matsumoto Castle has endured over 400 years of wind, rain, snow and it stood magnificently well preserved. It is surrounded by very beautiful surroundings.  


Chart showing the different family crest of the lords of Matsumoto clan.

This castle was once home to 23 generations of 6 families starting from 1590AD to 1869AD. If you enter the castle you can feel the atmosphere of the Warring States Period. There are many displays of historical artifacts such as samurai armors and even muskets. If you fancy a climb, you can climb to the top of the castle and enjoy a view of the city and the Japanese Alps. Until today it’s original black wooden outer wall and stonewall remain carefully preserved.  


 The oldest castle in Japan, the Matsumoto castle.



You can also walk around the streets near the castle, which is known as the Matsumoto Castle town where the old buildings and houses will give you a feel of how Japan was like a long time ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to walk the streets so I’ll leave that for future trips.





Nagano is an amazing place to visit. It has so much to offer that it may actually require a few visits just to experience all it’s amazing beauty. There is something for every season. If you fancy snow, you don’t even have to travel all the way to Hokkaido. You can experience it in Hakuba, where it is well known for it’s powder snow and world class skiing resorts. You can also experience traveling in between snow walls as high as 12 meters tall on the highest road in Japan on Mount Norikura, visit natural hot springs, witness the rare sight of Japanese snow monkeys enjoying natural hot springs during winter, nature trekking, walk through old Japanese post towns, play golf or even experience summer snow in July and August. There are just too many things to list down.


 Click the map above for Google map location

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Miharashi Farm Soba Making

Our next stop was Miharashi Farm. In Miharashi Farm, you can experience a wide variety of activities such as fruit gathering, food making, crafts making, trekking, golf, and of course, dining in the restaurants or stay a night in the hotel. As interesting as all these activities sounded, there was only time for soba making and apple gathering.


Exterior of the soba making school.

For the soba making class, it costs JPY 4200 per person and takes about 2 hours, including eating the soba that you make. The actual class is approximately 1 hour, where a professional soba master will explain and demonstrate how soba is prepared. You then get to prepare soba yourself with his close supervision.  

The photos below illustrate how soba is made.







 This is how thin it is.


Add flour before folding.


 Fold it before cutting.


 This is how you hold the soba cutting knife.


You cut the soba with the guide of the soba cutting board.





 And it is now done.


 While I was busy taking photos if the soba making, Kurozawa san was taking photos of me.



Now it is my turn to make the soba. In this photo I was cutting the soba.


 Glad to know the soba master commented that my soba cutting is really fine.


 Now it's time to cook the soba.


 It is cooked by simply boiling it for a few minutes.



 Rinse it with cold water before serving.



 And here it is, ready to be eaten.

Once the soba is made, it is highly recommended that you cook it right away and have it served immediately. The soba tasted so delicious.


Time for some dessert

I then headed over to the apple farm for the apple gathering. It costs JPY 600 and you get to enjoy 1 hour of gathering and eating apples. Yes! Pluck and eat as much as you like! They even provide an ingenious apple de-skinning device where you place the apple on it, turn the lever and all the skin is sliced off as the apple turns.


The apple farm.


 The apple here looks really nice and yummie.


Let's give it a try.


 Place the apple on the de-skinning device.


 Turn the handle and the apple will spin while the knife will remove the skin.


 Next place the apple on a place and use the slicing tool to slice the whole apple.


And it's ready to be eaten.


 Click the map above for Google map location 

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Mount Hokendake

Now that I am well-fed, it’s time to burn off some calories and get to the peak of Mount Hokendake.  To reach the peak of Mount Hokendake, you need to travel to the base of the Komagatake Ropeway and transfer onto a bus that will take you to the base Shirabidaira cable car station located at 1661.5 meters above sea level. From here, the cable car will take you all the way up to Senjojiki station at the base of Senjojiki Cirque at 2611.5 meters on a single rope span. This is the longest single cable span in Japan with elevation rise of 950 meters in 7 minutes 30 seconds.


 View of the alps from the station's viewing platform.



 7 degree Celcius at Senjojiki station.

At the elevation of 2612 meters, Senjojiki station is the highest station in Japan. It has a magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding Alps and on clear days you can even see the majestic Mount Fuji from here. Senjojiki Cirque was formed by glacier about 20,000 years ago and is in a shape of a bowl. Currently Senjojiki Cirque is mostly visited by local Japanese tourist and the surrounding environment is very well preserved.


 Senjojiki station lookout point.


 My lunch

You can dine at the dining hall where all the food is prepared using pure alpine water or treat yourself to some nice coffee in the coffee room. Before you head back down, you can buy some souvenir from the gift shop. The dining room already prepared lunch for me so I’ll have my lunch first! Itadakimasu!

I had limited time here so I rushed through my lunch and off I went to explore a bit of the Senjojiki Cirque. Even though it was 7 degree Celsius outside, I much rather be out there enjoying the scenery and capture as much as I can while I’m here. It’s an awesome day today with clear blue sky and nice breeze. As we were short on time, I didn’t get to go far into the Senjojiki Cirque though I really wanted to trek all the way up to the peak. One day I will be back for that!


 In winter this slope will be covered with snow.


 Taking a short break.


You can actually ski and snowboard on this slope during winter.



Taking picture of the southern alps and Mount Fuji.


 View of the Southern alps and the peak of Mount Fuji


 Mount Fuji, the southern alps and Komagane town.



 It would be lovely to see this view in winter when it is covered with snow.


 Too bad the itinerary for this stop is really short or else it would be fun to actually hike all the way up.


 School kids on their way down after the school trip.

Before I realized it, it was time to head back to the cable car platform for the ride down. I have to travel 263km to Maibara station to catch the shinkansen to Osaka.


While on the bus down to the base we came across some Japanese red face snow monkeys.  


 The hiking trail. Click on the map above for more info.


 Click the map above for Google map location  

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Last stop : Osaka

I arrived at my hotel in Osaka past 9pm and was quite tired out from the whole day’s journey. The next thing on my mind is food! Since I’m in Osaka I must at least try them at the famous Takoyaki CReo-Ru Okonomiyaki restaurant in Shinsaibashisuji.  


Takoyaki CReo-Ru Okonomiyaki



 Making takoyaki.




 Various types of okonomiyaki being prepared.



  Kurasawa-san and Yozo-san took me there. What I didn’t know was Kurosawa-san knows the owner and he told him about us coming. While I was enjoying my takoyaki, the owner himself Kasai-san came over to meet me.


A group photo after dinner with Kasai-san outside his restaurant.

It was such a surprise. Takoyaki Creo-Ru Okonomiyaki is very famous in Japan and in Osaka alone they have seven branches. They also have plans to venture outside of Japan. It is located right in the middle of the Shinsaibashisuji shopping street.

After dinner, I just walked around Shinsaibashisuji and took some photos of the famous landmark in Osaka, the running man. It was late so there is one last important stop I must make before the end of this trip, Donquijote! Donquijote is a 7-storey shop where you can buy almost anything you want and it opens until 4am. Plus, they recently started tax-free shopping for tourists.


 Early Halloween party. Japanese girls dressed up for drinking session with friends.

Happy Halloween!!


  Shinsaibashisuji is always packed and busy regardless day or night.


Shinsaibashisuji is also famous for it's creative and larger-than-life LED and neon signboards. 







 The Running Man of Osaka! When you are in Osaka, you must have a picture with The Running Man!



 Two Korean traveler I met.


 They were really nice and friendly but too bad when I switched to my new phone I lost their contact. =o(


 And when in Japan you definitely need to visit and shop in my favourite shop, Don Quijote!


It is a massive store that sales everything and anything. So fear not if you didn't have time for much shopping during your trip. Make a stop here and you can buy everything you need. It's duty free for tourist and it opens till 5am each day.


 Click the map above for Google map location